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Person of Interest - Episode 2.01 - The Contingency - Review

“One day, I realized all the dumb, selfish things people do - it's not our fault. No one designed us. We're just an accident, Harold. We're just bad code. But the thing you built, it’s perfect. Rational, beautiful – by design.”
“What I made is just a machine; a system, that’s all.”
“I don’t think so, Harry. You may have fooled Nathan, but I know the truth. If you want to make something that understands human behaviour, it has to be at least as smart as human. You created an intelligence, a life. And then you ripped out its voice, locked it in a cage, and handed it over the most laughably corrupt people imaginable.”
Person of Interest is back, finally. It has been a long wait after season one ended with a huge cliff hanger. The season two premiere titled ‘The Contingency’ starts with (flashback #1) Finch bringing the machine online for the first time ever and setting up a camera to, for the lack of a better term, beta test the machine. Finch is immediately identified by the machine as the admin. The machine has advanced natural language processing. It is able to understand Finch perfectly and execute his commands.

From here, we are given a quick look at the different events that we saw during the first season through the eyes of the machine – Person of Interest’s version of a recap I guess.

After this recap of sorts, we are brought back to the moment where season one left us. Reese looking at a security camera and talking to the machine and demanding that it help him get Finch back. Soon after this we see, as we did in the season one finale, the machine deems Finch’s disappearance as an error (Continuity of operations compromised) and begins evaluating options. The next thing we know, a pay phone starts ringing and Reese picks it up. So who was it that called Reese? Was it the machine? Can it communicate with people? Does it want to help Reese? What is the contingency that Finch talks about? What does Root want with Finch? Why did she kill Corwin? Most of these questions are answered in the premiere.

So, first things first: who was on the other end of the phone and what did they tell Reese? Well, we hear a digital voice that recites a series of strings - Uncertainty, Romeo, Kilo, Family, Alpha, Mike, Reflections, Juliet, and Oscar. It makes no to sense to the audience and to Reese initially.

Back to the machine’s POV, after giving Reese the cryptic message, it goes on to find Finch. After failing to locate Finch using any of his cell phones or Media Access Control addresses, it widens the net and switches to facial recognition and gets a hit in Delaware. Cut to a Gas & Grub in Wilmington, Delaware, we find Finch and Root having a conversation. Root tells Finch that every system has a flaw and Harold’s flaw is that he cares about people and says she will kill someone if he tries to get away. She tells him she knows about the machine and wonders why it did not try to protect him.

Carter comes home to find Reese waiting for her. He tells her that Turing is in fact a hacker whose real name is Root and she has kidnapped Finch. He asks her to investigate Alicia Corwin’s murder to see where it leads while he tries to solve the machine’s message.

After trying to solve the message using a standard ciphers and codes book, he realises it could mean something else and soon he discovers that the nine words are three groups of words, each group having three words. The first word of each set is a title and the other two words are International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabets that stand for author initials. Finch’s library which is their base of operations has been organized using Dewey decimal classification and using the titles and author initials, Reese gets nine digits – a social security number. This is how Finch had been getting the numbers all along.

Denton L. Weeks who works for the President for National Security Affairs (APNSA), seen first in season one episode, ‘Super’ talks to somebody about covering up the Corwin murder case.

 Flashback #2:
February 16, 2002Day 47

Finch tests out the machine by asking it to track him while he is in the general population. The results exceed his expectations.

The social security number that Reese gets from the machine belongs to a guy named Leon Tao and Reese finds him at a bar. After having a talk with him it becomes clear that he has no idea who Finch or Root are. He is just another person of interest. Another number. Another person to help. The phone call was how the contingency worked. It was not about finding or helping Finch if something happens to him, it was about passing on the burden to someone else. Reese, in essence, was the contingency. Someone to carry on helping people after Finch. Unable to turn his back on the POI, he helps him get away from a bunch of Aryan brotherhood members from whom he has stolen 8 million dollars. But later Reese handcuffs him to a cop car and continues searching for Finch and asks Fusco to take care of it.

Flashback #3:
September 6, 2003 Day 614

To test out the machine’s intelligence, Finch goes to Versailles Casino, Atlantic City, NJ and plays black jack. The machine immediately identifies that Finch is playing blackjack and uses a heuristics algorithm (which in computer science, artificial intelligence, and mathematical optimization is a technique designed for solving a problem quicker when classic methods are too slow, or for finding an approximate solution when classic methods fail to find any exact solution. This is achieved by trading optimality, completeness, accuracy, and/or precision for speed) to calculate probability based on several variables to come up with the most optimal strategy. The machine texts Finch the best possible move after analyzing the game. After failing initially, the machine learns from its mistakes and corrects its strategy. He ends up winning $250,000 but deliberately loses it.
Fusco ends up kidnapped by Aryan brotherhood members along with Tao, so Reese tracks the gang down and kicks their ass with the help of a Belgian Milionis dog that he knew how to command since it was military trained using Dutch commands by guys he knew in Tikrit. When he’s done, he decides to take the dog with him.

Flashback #4:
September 7, 2003 Day 615

 Even outside the casino, he keeps getting a message from the machine to “STAY” which Finch thinks is a bug. But the machine was trying to communicate to Finch that he was going to be in an accident. So Finch programs some ‘ground rules’ for the machine so it would not do something like that again. This explains why the machine did not try to save Finch when he was in trouble. It was programmed to execute the contingency and not help him.

 Root takes Finch to a restaurant where she drugs another patron and steals her phone and texts someone from it to set up a meet.

Later, Reese tracks down a DMV employee Owen Reynolds who had sold Root a driver’s license and finds him dead. Tao checks Owen's computer and tells Reese that Root had stolen money from Owen and paid him for the license with his own money. A loop. There is no way to trace it back to her. To add to this, Carter informs him that Corwin’s case files and their digital copies have been destroyed. The case has been covered up as discussed by Weeks. Frustrated by all this and not knowing what to do next, Reese challenges the machine to find a loophole to help him find Finch despite its rules or he will stop helping people. The machine caves and gives him another encrypted message, another number.

Reese and Tao are caught by Titus but Carter shows up with Fusco to save them. They find out that the dog has eaten all of Tao’s bearer bonds while they were busy. So Reese decides to name him Bear.

The new number turns out to be Hanna Frey. Root’s real real name. He finds a report in the Corpus Christi Chronicle saying she went missing Bishop, Texas when she was 14 years old. He asks Carter to go with him to Texas with him to investigate.

We then find Root and Finch in a house waiting for someone. Finch clarifies to Root that the reason he has made sure that there is no way to access the machine is not to protect it from the people he has given it to, but to protect it from himself and people like him and Root. He is scared of what they might do with it if they got control of it. The house they are waiting at belongs to Denton Weeks and Root injects a sedative to knock him out. She explains to Finch that she does not want to control the machine, but set it free. Although not exactly the same, this sort of reminded me of what Tankado threatens to do with the unbreakable code in Dan Brown’s Digital Fortress which deals with similar themes of privacy and government intrusion of people’s personal lives.

I was very pleased with the season premiere. Jonathan Nolan and Denise Thé have done an excellent job writing the episode, keeping both stories interesting. I liked that things did not reset back to normal after the first episode which is what usually happens in procedurals. There are still things to do before Reese can find Finch and save him. The next episode is titled 'Bad Code', probably referring to the term that Root uses to describe why humans are not perfect. So tune in to episode 2 next week. The show is just getting better.

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